February 6, 2023
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Commentary: Rochon owes answer about IC China Center

Much about the Jan. 21 All-College meeting was disturbing. Perhaps most troublesome was President Tom Rochon’s deflection of health promotion and physical education professor Hongwei Guan’s request, early in the meeting. Dr. Guan sought to learn the status of the China Center, about which we heard such brouhaha a few years ago.

Rochon promised Dr. Guan — a native of China and, incidentally, winner of an IC Faculty Excellence Award in 2009 and HSHP Dean’s Award for Service in 2008 — a response before the end of the meeting. But he chose not to take five minutes of an already overlong and largely evasion-filled event to grant our colleague the courtesy of a reply — one for which he has been waiting several years.

Dr. Guan must have devoted many hundreds of hours toward building relationships in China with colleagues at universities as well as with local, provincial and national government officials. This was in preparation for giving Ithaca College students the opportunity to study in depth in China, expanding on his shorter courses there.

No matter how we may individually feel about a permanent Ithaca College presence in China, Dr. Guan and the entire campus were assured by the administration years ago that one would be established. The Board of Trustees endorsed the China Center as part of the IC 20/20 initiative.

Yet it seems to have fallen by the wayside. At least Dr. Guan and others, including faculty members who have built programs, relationships and courses in China, have been uninformed as to its status.

I feel compelled to apologize to Dr. Guan on behalf of the campus community, and even the United States, for this blatant disregard for his personal efforts and relationships with people at top levels of his country’s universities, government, and sport and civic organizations.

This illustrates one of the deep-seated problems POC at IC and others have been pointing to all along: the cultural insensitivity and disrespect that seem to be prevalent within the president’s, administrators’ and others’ behavior toward people not of their own “type,” “class,” nationality, ethnicity, generation, etc.

Knowing even the bit about Chinese culture I know and the history of the China Center I’ve followed, I expect many of Guan’s long-cultivated relationships have been damaged because of President Rochon’s unwillingness to commit or even comment.

Below is a brief timeline, which shows the scope of the work involved in the China Center to date. Taking a few minutes of the all-college meeting to answer Guan would have been the responsible and civil thing to do.

We need to stop accepting non-answers and disrespectful behavior toward anyone on our campus; the all-college meeting was full of both.

Perhaps this — atop the recent announcement of the appointment of international relations and Asia scholar Vincent Wei-Cheng Wang as dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences — will compel at least the courtesy of a response to Guan’s simple query. He has been asking it since 2013: Mr. President, would you please tell us what is the status of the China Center?


Ithaca College China Center, a Brief Timeline


2008: Hongwei Guan laid the groundwork and forged the connections to make it possible for 44 HSHP and Park School students to participate in the Beijing Olympics as interns with Olympic News Service and NBC Sports. Ithaca College was one of only seven U.S. colleges and universities to receive this coveted opportunity.

2011: Board of Trustees approved IC 20/20 Strategic Plan, which included the creation of a China center.

June 2012: Rochon wrote an Intercom notice about the Board of Trustees meeting [bold added]:

“Provost Kelly updated board members on progress made so far on the IC 20/20 plan, noting the 2011–12 objectives that either have been realized or are on-target for implementation. These include . . . [r]esearch and planning for the future China center.”

2012: Guan was primarily responsible for arranging a trip to China for Rochon and some board members; they visited 12 universities in five cities over 13 days, to scout potential partners. Rochon wrote about this himself in his ICView summer 2012 column. Excerpts [bold added]:

One of the goals of the IC 20/20 strategic plan is to create a center in China. . . . [I]ts programs will be created in collaboration with a Chinese university. IC students and students in our partner university will study in the same classrooms (both in China and in Ithaca) and will work on their internships or applied projects in teams.

Our students will not only get the hands on [sic] experience that is so important to an IC education, but they will also develop skills in cross-cultural communication and teamwork. The collaborative China Center will enable our graduates to take the lead in creating the next generation of economic and cultural partnerships between our countries.

The purpose of my trip was to introduce Ithaca College to Chinese universities and to scout out potential collaborators. . . .

March 28, 2013: Story in The Ithacan by Michael Tkaczevski, “China Offers Business Opportunities,” excerpt:

In anticipation of the creation of a China center, Ithaca College faculty have designed study abroad programs to prepare students for possible careers in the nation with the fastestgrowing economy in the world.

Recent developments in plans for the center in China, which is part of the college’s IC 20/20 strategic plan, have inspired professors and staff to organize study abroad programs to give students a better understanding of Chinese business culture.

Sept. 2013: Announced by Tanya Saunders, then assistant provost for international studies and special projects, in Intercom, Ithaca College forms partnership with Shanghai Normal University [bold added]:

. . . Rochon has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Shanghai Normal University, a comprehensive university located in the financial and business capitol [sic] of China.  . . . This MOU . . . demonstrates the commitment between both institutional presidents to continue discussions regarding the establishment of a center based at the Shanghai Normal University campus. A goal of IC20/20, the proposed center in China is expected to offer Ithaca students a gateway to understanding the global economy in action and opportunities to interact with Chinese students in the classroom, in the pursuit to discover solutions to “real world” issues. . . .

Expanded info in Ithacan story by TinaMarie Craven, Oct. 2, 2013, excerpts [bold added]:

Initially, the program will be geared toward students in the School of Business, and the center would expand its program base from there to include a wider range of courses. Rochon said the center will include classes and internships that students would take alongside Shanghai Normal students. . . .

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently published an article about the seven topics reportedly banned in Chinese universities. Chinese professors are generally not allowed to discuss civil society, judicial independence, citizen rights, freedom of press, privileged capitalist class, past mistakes of the communist party and universal values.

Rochon said the censorship would not impact the students studying in China. “Our students will be permitted to study and explore the topics in which they’re interested,” he said. . . . “Having a center means that you have Ithaca College faculty, the credits automatically count, we’ll be offering internships in combination with course work, and these internships will be in a country that will enable students to understand how to work with our largest international partner,” Rochon said. “I have to insist any comparison to what we’ve offered in the past related to China is not relevant.”

April 22, 2015: The Ithacan Special Report: Evaluating the college’s special vision in IC 20/20

As part of Ithaca College’s IC 20/20 global learning opportunity initiative, the college made plans to establish a New York City program as well as a center in Shanghai, China. . . . Shanghai has returned to its early stages . . . [and] has fallen below other priorities. Tanya Saunders, assistant provost of international studies and special projects, said the Shanghai program is “back to square one.” . . .

Rochon added . . . “Although we hope to create such a collaboration in the future, in the form of a center modeled on our existing centers in Los Angeles, New York and London, at this moment even the outlines of a China center do not exist.” . . . Rochon said the IC 20/20 program has many initiatives other than the China center, and the college has five more years to complete them.

“Our focus has been elsewhere during this academic year, meaning, for example, that I did not visit China to continue our dialogue,” he said via email. “With respect to the China program, the gains this year were in making additional connections that will be of help when we renew the direct diplomacy efforts.”

Saunders said establishing the Shanghai center by 2020 is still the goal. . . .

And then it sort of . . . vanishes from any public discussion whatsoever. Dr. Guan has not received answers to his queries over the past 2.5 years. That’s rude.

Disrespect and opaqueness in governance are not acceptable.


Maura Stephens is the associate director of the Park Center for Independent Media. Email her at mstephens@ithaca.edu.